Lou Ford is 29 years-old, the deputy sheriff of a town in Texas that’s so small that Fort Worth is viewed as being the “big city.” Lou is friendly. Lou appears to be popular among the citizenry. Lou has a sweet and wholesome girlfriend named Amy. Lou speaks in a cheerful clichés and seems to be content with his reputation for being a dependable but slightly slow-witted good ol’ boy.
Of course, we know the truth about Lou. We know the truth because Lou tells us. In Jim Thompson’s 1952 novel, The Killer Inside Me, Lou narrates his story to us. Underneath his friendly exterior, Lou is an ice-cold sociopath who is proud of the fact that he could literally beat someone to death if he wanted to. He speaks in clichés only because he’s mocking his listeners and even Amy is ultimately expendable to his plans. Most disturbing of all, Lou knows that he’s a sociopath. He even reads a book on the subject. He knows but he doesn’t care.
Lou has plans, most of which involve blackmailing a local construction magnate. His partner in his blackmail scheme is the local prostitute, Joyce Lakeland. Lou’s been having an affair with Joyce and, as far as Lou knows, she’s the only person who is aware of his true nature. Lou’s solution to that problem is to not only frame Joyce for murder but to also beat her into a coma. While Lou waits for Joyce to die, he’s busy covering his own tracks and committing additional murders. Through it all, Lou struggles to keep everyone else in the world from catching a glance of the killer inside of him.
The Killer Inside Me may be over 60 years old but it’s still one of the most intense and disturbing portraits of a sociopath ever written. Secure that he will be forever protected by his status as a member of law enforcement, Lou Ford feels free to pursue every sadistic whim that pops into his head. Jim Thompson traps us in Ford’s mind but interestingly, the best parts of the book are the parts that suggest that Ford may not be correctly interpreting what’s happening around him. Towards the end of the book, it starts to become evident that Ford may not have been as clever as he insists that he is and we’re force to consider that we just spent several chapters taking the word of a sociopath.
You may be tempted to watch the 2010 film version instead of reading the book. Don’t do it! The book is a hundred times better and the movie totally screwed up the ending.